Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A short review of “Jigsaw” (2017)

I’m going along with the crowd today where “Jigsaw” (2017) is concerned; I concur entirely with the other reviews I’ve read.  It’s a story fraught with logical problems, but it’s entertaining enough to please fans of the franchise (of whom I am one).  Based on my own enjoyment of the movie, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

Yes, some of it doesn’t makes sense.  And the twists and coincidences seem pretty forced.  There was another problem for me, as well — at this point, the writers seem to have run out of ideas for the film series’ trademark moralizing booby traps.  (The one involving a grain silo is particularly uninspired, and seems like something out a Bugs Bunny cartoon.)

But what the hell.  I’d be lying if I said that this was a movie that didn’t distract and scare me.  I think what attracts me to the “Saw” films is not the blood and gore.  (Gory horror movies are a dime a dozen.)  It’s the character concept behind their brilliant, merciless killer — he’s like a combination of James Moriarty, Rube Goldberg and one of the Inquisitors of old.

Besides, I still like the twists.  They may be forced, but they always take me by surprise despite my best efforts to predict them.

And I think every movie is made better by the addition of Callum Keith Rennie.  (He’s a shady, grizzled police detective here, though he’s far better than so cliched a role.)  I’ve always thought Rennie was terrific — he deserves the lead role in some sort of extremely dark anti-hero film.  (Are they remaking 2005’s “Constantine” anytime soon?)

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Allman Brothers Band

Rest in peace, Gregg Allman.

I first got acquainted with music of The Allman Brothers Band as a first-semester freshman at Mary Washington College in 1990.  My cultural illiteracy as an 18-year-old was embarrassing — especially where music was concerned.  I’d arrived at the small, fairly conservative Virginia state school listening to … well, very little other than what I’d heard on the MTV countdown.  (I started loving Richard Wagner as a high school senior — but that niche interest was rare for someone my age, so far as I was aware.)  It was an ongoing issue when I was a college freshman that upperclassmen would roll their eyes or even occasionally hiss when I told them what music I was into.

Alumnus Steve Miller and his friends were the exception.  They showed me far more patience at their parties in “The Tunnel” between Mason and Randolph Halls — they exposed me to tons of The Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, The Steve Miller Band, and The Beatles.  (No, the irony of a guy named Steve Miller coincidentally loving The Steve Miller Band was not lost on us.)  Steve and his friends were each, in varying degrees, an amalgam of Obi-Wan and a far mellower version one of the guys from “Animal House” (1978).

The Allman Brothers were really my first extended exposure to Southern rock.  (And, hey, you can’t get much more Southern than a band made up of guys named Berry Oakley or Butch Trucks.)  I listened to them whenever there was a party at Steve’s, even after he started hosting his soirees out of his apartment on Sunken Road. Everyone there loved The Allman Brothers.  I think “Ramblin’ Man” was probably the group’s favorite.

Today, “Midnight Rider” is by far and away my favorite Allman Brothers song.  Curiously enough, though, for the life of me, I do not remember hearing that one in college.  I actually started jamming to it after I heard Rob Zombie include it in the score for the opening montage of “The Devil’s Rejects” horror film in 2005.

Anyway … “The Tunnel” at “Mary Washington College” has apparently now been remodeled into the above-ground “The Link” at “The University of Mary Washington.”

Well la-dee-DA.